Srinagar, Oct 28: After being briefed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval in New Delhi on Monday, an unofficial delegation of 27 European Union (EU) members is visiting Kashmir on Tuesday (today) to access the situation in the region.
This is the first foreign delegation to visit the valley which is under a clampdown since August 5 when the Centre revoked Article 370 and divided and relegated the state into two union territories.
Reports said that the visit was “not official” and the EU members “were visiting Kashmir in their personal capacity.”
“The delegation is not on an official visit in India and came here at the invitation of a non-government group. We are not organising any of their meetings,” Al Jazeera quoted an EU official in India saying.
Interestingly, 80% of the visiting delegation members are from rightwing European parties.
“Two out of 27 MPs visiting Kashmir are affiliated to European far-right parties. The MPs are from parties with hardline views on Muslim immigration,” said NDTV in its news broadcast.
As per reports, NSA Doval briefed the delegation on cross-border militancy, constitutional changes made in the status of Jammu and Kashmir with the revocation of Article 370 and the situation in the valley.
Doval also hosted a lunch for the European lawmakers. Those present included some Kashmiri leaders, including PDP leader Muzaffar Baig, former PDP leader Altaf Bukhari, and some newly-elected Block Development Council (BDC) members in the state.
According to sources, the delegation members will be briefed by top officials about the on-ground situation in Kashmir.
“They will meet residents and owners of the boats in Dal Lake and may tour some parts of the city,” sources said.
“The delegation will also meet J&K administration officials and locals in the valley. During the two-day visit, they are also likely to call on the Governor and interact with the media,” sources said.
The delegation includes Italy’s Fulvio Martusciello, UK’s David Richard Bull, Italy’s Gianna Gancia, France’s Julie Lechanteux, Czech Republic’s Tomas Zdechovsky, Slovakia’s Peter Pollak and Germany’s Nicolas Fest.
“It (abrogation of Article 370) is India’s internal matter as Kashmir is its part. It is the prerogative of Indian government to take internal decisions. We are with India on this,” Zdechovsky told PTI.
In his article in the European Parliament’s monthly newspaper last month, Zdechovsky said the abrogation of Article 370 “will help in rooting out several militant organisations operating in Kashmir”.
“Following the article I received many hate mails from Pakistan,” he said.
Advocating an approach of dialogue, Pollak said, “Both India and Pakistan should talk to avoid escalation in the region.”
Another lawmaker said the briefing by Doval was very “informative” and gave a perspective on the entire issue.
The visit comes on the heels of a US Congressional meeting in Washington, where a group of lawmakers expressed concern about the situation in Jammu and Kashmir following the Centre’s move to end the state’s special status granted under the Constitution.
Alice Wells, the Acting US Assistant Secretary of State, had said the US State department had “raised concerns with the Indian government regarding the detentions of local residents and political leaders, including three former Chief Ministers of Jammu and Kashmir”.
“We have urged Indian authorities to respect human rights and restore full access to services, including internet and mobile networks,” she said at the meeting held last week.
Internet services — across all platforms — continued to be snapped across the valley since the night of 4 August while mobile telephony was restored just a few weeks ago.
The efforts of the state government to open schools have not borne any fruit as parents have continued to keep children at home due to apprehensions about their safety.
However, authorities are making preparations for holding all board examinations as per schedule.
As many as 400 people, including top-level and second-rung separatists and politicians, have been taken into preventive custody, while mainstream leaders, including two former chief ministers — Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti — have either been detained or placed under house arrest.
Another former chief minister and the Lok Sabha MP from Srinagar, Farooq Abdullah, has been arrested under the controversial Public Safety Act, a law enacted by his father and National Conference (NC) founder Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah in 1978 when he was the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir.
Following the news of the delegation’s visit, Iltija Mufti, the daughter of detained Mehbooba Mufti, tweeted: “Hope they get a chance to speak to the people, local media, doctors and civil society members. The iron curtain between Kashmir & the world needs to be lifted and GOI must be held accountable for pushing J&K into turmoil”.
Another tweet of hers read: “If 28 European Parliament members are allowed to take stock of situation in Kashmir, wonder why the same courtesy can’t be extended to American senators. Won’t be surprised if GOIs indulging in normalcy acrobatics again & orchestrating ‘normalcy’ certificates.”
Opposition, Swamy slam govt
‘Allow EU lawmakers to meet Mehbooba, Abdullahs’
Srinagar, Oct 28: Questioning the timing and the motive of the visit, political parties in Kashmir have asked Centre to allow European Union (EU) delegation to meet three incarcerated former chief ministers, civil society members and general public if they really want to have an “objective” assessment of the situation in the valley.
A 41-member delegation including 28 EU parliamentarians is visiting valley on Tuesday for on the spot assessment of the ground situation post abrogation of article 370.
National Conference (NC) said the exercise will be result oriented only when the delegation is allowed to meet three detained former chief ministers and civil society members.
“They (delegation) should be allowed to have an objective and fair assessment of ground situation. One of the incarcerated leaders has been a former foreign minister of the country. Their efforts can prove productive only when they meet people, civil society and politicians,” said Justice (retd) Hasnain Masoodi, NC Member of Parliament from Anantnag.
Masoodi said he had contacted authorities to allow the delegation to meet the incarcerated leaders. “But Deputy Commissioner didn’t respond to my calls. I want European Union to meet detained leadership and political parties,” he added.
Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) questioned the delegation’s visit three months after abrogation of article 370. “The sudden visit of European delegation to Kashmir seems very fishy. I called European Commission office in New Delhi and they informed me that the visit was a private one,” said Iltija Mufti, daughter of former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti.
She said EU lawmakers’ visit is being facilitated at a time when many politicians have been barred from visiting to the valley. “Why Rahul Gandhi had to approach Supreme Court? Why he still couldn’t visit Kashmir? Why wasn’t same courtesy shown by government to US senator, who had desired to visit the valley to know about the ground situation? The visit entirely seems fake and orchestrated to me,” Mufti said.
She also supported NC’s demand for allowing the delegation to meet incarcerated politicians. “Let they meet Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries, which have suffered huge losses after abrogation of article 370. If their intentions are clean then they should meet Mehbooba Mufti, Jammu and Kashmir High Court Bar Association and women who run various NGOs,” Mufti said.
Congress also lashed out at the Centre for facilitating the delegation visit while barring their party leadership to visit Kashmir.
“If PMO can host an EU member delegation and facilitate their visit to Kashmir then why are they not extending the same courtesy to opposition members and opposition leaders who are PMO’s own countrymen,” said Congress spokesperson Jaiveer Shergill.
Congress MP Shashi Tharoor too questioned the logic behind the central government’s move.
“My request, made during the Lok Sabha debate on Article 370, for an All-Party delegation of MPs to visit to see the situation for themselves, has still not been accepted. But members of the European Parliament can travel as our government’s guests? What an #InsultToIndianDemocracy!” he tweeted.
Senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh asked as to why the “chest-beating champion of nationalism”, in an apparent swipe at Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has allowed European leaders to visit Jammu and Kashmir.
“When Indian political leaders have been prevented from meeting the people of J&K, what possessed the great chest-beating champion of nationalism to allow European politicians to visit J&K. This is an outright insult to India’s own Parliament and our democracy,” he also tweeted.
BJP’s outspoken Rajya Sabha Member of Parliament Subramanian Swamy too slammed the decision to allow the delegation of Members of European Parliament to visit Kashmir and demanded its cancellation.
Swamy described the move as a “perversion” of the country’s policy.
This will be the first foreign delegation to visit Kashmir since the abrogation of Art 370.
“I am surprised that the MEA (Ministry of External Affairs) has arranged for European Union MPs, in their private capacity (not the EU’s official delegation), to visit Kashmir area of J&K. This is a perversion of our national policy. I urge the Government to cancel this visit because it is immoral,” Swamy tweeted.
Baig, Bukhari, ors meet delegation in Delhi
Srinagar, Oct 28: Top politicians including PDP patron and former deputy chief minister Muzaffar Hussain Baig and former finance minister Altaf Bukhari on Monday met European Union (EU) parliamentarians in New Delhi.
A 41 member delegation including 28 EU parliamentarians are arriving here on Tuesday for on the spot assessment of the ground situation post abrogation of article 370.
Apart from Baig and Bukhari, chairman of All J&K Panchayat Association Shafeeq Mir, former Congress MLA Usman Majeed and other politicians also met the delegation in the national capital on Monday.
“Yes, I met with the EU delegates but as an ex- MP. I told them that Shimla agreement clearly mentions about holding bilateral negotiations between India and Pakistan to resolve Kashmir issue. I asked EU delegation that there can’t be any solution till India and Pakistan sit on table to discuss Kashmir,” Baig told The Kashmir Monitor.
Former deputy chief minister asserted that EU delegates didn’t ask him anything about the detention of the political leaders or the situation in Kashmir. “They didn’t ask any question about internal politics of the state. It was a very brief meeting,” he said.
On the other side, Shafeeq Mir said delegates enquired from him about governance at grassroots level. “We only discussed about functioning of Panchayats. The recently concluded Block Development Council was also discussed in the meeting,” he said.
Efforts to contact Altaf Bukhari did not yield results as he did not take the call. Sources however said he also met the delegation individually and discussed Kashmir situation with them.
Another spell of snow this week
Srinagar, Nov 10: Kashmir should brace up for a second spell of wet weather as officials have predicted widespread snow and rains on Friday and Saturday this week.
An official at the local Meteorological Department said there will be widespread snow and rain in Kashmir on November 15 and 16 (Friday and Saturday) even as the weather till then will remain cloudy with rainfall in isolated places.
“We are experiencing western disturbance over Kashmir which is going to worsen by the end of this week. There are chances of widespread snow and rainfall although its intensity would not be as much as last week’s snowfall,” the official told The Kashmir Monitor.
Kashmir experienced a record breaking November snowfall last Thursday that took everyone by surprise and left a trail of death and destruction across the region.
With electricity and other essential supplies still erratic in most of the places, the heaps of snow on roads and lanes are not melting given that sunshine has stayed aloof these days.
Meanwhile, the so-called all-weather highway connecting Kashmir to the rest of the world was again blocked on Sunday.
Thousands of commuters were stranded on the highway after a massive landslide blocked the road in Ramban in the afternoon, only hours after traffic resumed on the route.
Traffic on the highway resumed around 3 am on Sunday after remaining suspended for over 13 hours following a massive landslide near Mahar – two kms short of Ramban town.
Road clearing agencies worked hard to ensure early opening of the road, but the fresh landslide, covering around 100 metres of the road with debris, played spoilsport, officials said.
The landslide struck near Digdole and at least 12 hours are needed to make the arterial road traffic-worthy. Men and machines have been pressed into service to clear the debris, they said.
According to the officials, hundreds of passenger vehicles and trucks carrying essential commodities to the Valley crossed the Jawahar Tunnel — the gateway to Kashmir — since Sunday morning.
However, the fresh landslide left over 1,300 vehicles stranded on the highway, they said.
Traffic on the highway remained suspended on Thursday and Friday after Kashmir Valley and high altitude areas of Jammu region, including Jawahar Tunnel, experienced first major snowfall.
Heavy rains, which lashed the highway from Banihal to Jammu, was causing frequent landslides, the officials said.
Meanwhile, the Mughal Road, which connects the border districts of Poonch and Rajouri in Jammu region with south Kashmir’s Shopian district, remained closed for the fifth day on Sunday, they said.
The road was closed for traffic on Wednesday after heavy snowfall between Pir Ki Gali and Shopian stretch.
Snow fury: Patient inflow to hospitals drops by 10%
Srinagar, Nov 10: Shedding snowflakes off his tweed pheran, 32-year-old Zubair Ahmad heaves a sigh of relief, as he enters the gates of SMHS hospital, Srinagar.
Hailing from south Kashmir’s Pulwama district, Zubair’s tryst with valley’s first snowfall began on a sad note. His mother developed a searing pain in the stomach on the night of November 7, when all the arterial roads were covered with thick layers of snow.
“Last week, my mother underwent gall bladder surgery. She was doing well until the night of November 7 when she suddenly complained of pain in her stomach. Despite our best efforts, my family members couldn’t ferry her to the hospital. The snow accumulated on the roads made the commute impossible,” he said.
Next morning, Zubair pleaded before several Sumo cab drivers to ferry his mother to the hospital, but it too turned out to be another herculean task.
“The roads remained covered with snow next day as well. All the drivers that I approached refused to undertake the journey. It was after a lot of persuasion that one of the drivers finally agreed but he charged Rs 1700,” he says.
Similarly, 40-year-old Mehraj-ud-din from north Kashmir’s Baramulla district suffered in equal measure due to heavy snowfall. His sister’s surgery scheduled on November 8 got deferred as she was unable to reach the hospital.
“A lot of trees were uprooted outside our home. Besides, the snow clearance of roads was yet to start from our side. As a result, I was unable to take my sister to the hospital,” Mehraj narrates.
It was on the afternoon of November 9 that he finally managed to reach the hospital. “After a lot of haggling, the Sumo driver settled at Rs 1200 to drop us at SMHS hospital.” he says.
On November 8, the unprecedented snowfall, one of the heaviest in recent years left a trail of death and destruction. More than nine people were killed and property worth 100 crore rupees got damaged due to the snowfall.
Consequently, the hospitals in the valley also witnessed a decreased patient inflow.
An official at the Government Super-Specialty hospital, Srinagar said only 30-40 percent patients have visited the hospital for last three days.
“The patients especially the ones who had to come from peripheral hospitals as referrals faced a lot of inconvenience. The administration has shown a lackadaisical approach in dealing with the snow crisis,” he said wishing not be named.
Medical Superintendent, SMHS Hospital Dr Nazir Chowdhary admitted that the patient inflow has dropped. “There has been 10 percent decline in patient inflow for the last three days,” Chowdhary said.
Medical Superintendent of SKIMS, Farooq Jan said: “We were fully geared up to deal with the crisis. However, patient inflow decreased by 10 percent since Wednesday.”
Reverse migration:Life comes a cropper for non-locals in Kashmir
Srinagar, Nov 10: On a chilly November morning, tailor Suresh Kumar along with his four family members is busy loading his belongings including a switching machine into a cab at Tourist Reception Center, here.
Kumar, who has been living in Kashmir for the last 15 years, has cut-short his stay to leave for his home in Uttar Pradesh. Scared after 11 non-locals including truckers, apple trader and labourers were killed, Kumar decided to call it quits and leave for his hometown in UP.
“All my associates from Anantnag left for their homes. I don’t think it will be a wise decision to stay here especially when many non-locals have been attacked in the last one month,” he said.
Kumar has joined a long list of migrant workers who have either left or winding up their businesses to go home following attacks on non-locals in Kashmir.
A cab driver at TRC said on an average nearly 10 to 20 taxis leave for Jammu with migrant workers on board. “Mostly non-locals would leave for their homes in mid-November. In October, people, who would work in north or south Kashmir areas, have left for their homes,” he said.
Non-locals have been leaving the valley since August 5 when central government abrogated article 370 and bifurcated state in two union territories.
Official figures reveal three lakh migrant labourers left Kashmir post abrogation of Article 370. In August last year, five lakh migrant labourers were present in Kashmir. This August only two lakh labourers stayed in Kashmir.
Migrant labourers are the backbone of the workforce that performs different jobs including harvesting apples in Kashmir. Since local labourers are scarce, migrant labourers are skilled and inexpensive.
“Growers had to face immense hardship in absence of non-local labourers. Even fruit markets where they would load apples, remained deserted this year,” said Ghulam Mohammad a grower from Pattan area of North Kashmir.
The migration of non-local labourers also hit developmental works in Kashmir. An official of Roads and Building Department said work on many of their projects have been stopped due to the absence of non-local workforce.